by Travis Richardson
Enjoy this never before published crime/mystery short story. This story is rated PG 13 for some strong language.
Jed knew where the cameras were. As soon as the old man left the convenience store he was going in. He waited in his idling truck as the senior citizen jawed with the cashier; probably this geezer’s big social event for the week. At last he lumbered out, but then stopped outside the door and began scratching off lottery tickets with a coin. It looked like he had a stack of them. “Good Lord Almighty,” Jed muttered.
While the old timer scraped away, a farmer and a plumber both went inside and left with thirty-two ounce pops. Finally, the old man shuffled away, throwing all the cards in the trash and shaking his head in disgust. Jed checked the road once more and then pulled the hoodie over his head. He walked in as an Indian kid–way over there India– looked up from a Car & Driver magazine. Before he could smile, Jed shoved a .38 Smith and Wesson in his face, making sure his head was down for the camera. “Gimme all your money from the register. And put it in a bag. Now!”
The teenager shook, but he opened the register and dropped the bills into a paper bag. It didn’t look like much.
“Is that all you got?”
“Yes, sir. We are a small mom and dad franchise, unless you want the coins too.”
“Naw, that’s okay,” Jed’s brain raced. He needed a lot more. “Do you have a safe?”
“We do, but unfortunately I do not have access to the combination.”
Jed nodded. The kid seemed honest enough. He was considering what to do next when a truck pulled up. He grabbed the paper sack of bills and hit the door. Outside he passed a guy with boots and a cowboy hat wearing a sidearm on his belt. Jed made sure to keep his head down and after a couple of steps hauled ass to his Ranger. After speeding down the rural roads and zig-zagging towards his place, he decided to pull over and count the money. He counted twice and then a third time. Only $137. Not even close to what he needed. He needed to go bigger.
Jed drove to a bank two towns over. It stood out like an island in an asphalt parking lot ocean with the continent of Super Wal-Mart on the horizon. People were coming and going inside the bank, so whipping out his revolver wouldn’t really work. He’d have to do what most bank robbers do in busy financial institutions.
Waiting in line, he thumbed the hammer back on the .38 inside his hoodie’s center pocket and then released it slowly. He had to remind himself to keep his head down so the cameras wouldn’t capture his face.
“Sir, I’m open.”
Jed walked over to the counter where a plump woman with big, permed hair bore a huge ear-to-ear smile. “Are you depositing or withdrawing?”
“Please swipe your card. Did you fill out a withdrawal slip?”
Jed pulled out his bankcard, but stopped himself before swiping it. “Could I have a slip, please? I forgot to fill one out.” Part of Jed wanted to run. Just go to another bank. But when she slid the slip of paper to him, he knew he had to go through with it. He scrawled out in block letters: THIS IS ROBERY. GIVE ME ALL UR MONEY OR ILL SHOOT.
Jed pushed the paper back to the woman, feeling sick in his stomach. She looked at the paper for a couple of moments, as if trying to decipher what he had written. Then the color of her skin turned pale as her lips creased from a smile to a frown.
“Sorry ma’am, but if you could give me everything you got in that register,” Jed said, trying to keep his voice low and steady. “I’ll be on my way.”
The woman trembled something fierce. She opened the drawer and started pulling out ones, fives, tens, and twenties. Jed felt his heart rise. This was real money. “Do you have any hundreds?” Jed asked.
“Not at my drawer. I’d…I’d have to ask a colleague.”
“No don’t do that. I’ll just take what’s there. In a bag please.”
“I don’t have a bag at my station.”
“Just… give ‘em to me,” Jed said, scooping up the bills and shoving them into the hoodie’s center pocket. A few bills hit the ground, but Jed knew he had already taken too long.
“Excuse me, sir. You dropped some money,” somebody shouted, but Jed was making a beeline to the door and not turning back.
He counted twice. He had only scored $768 from the bank; it seemed like so much more. With both robberies totaled, he was still under a grand. Jed shook his head. He sat across from the Zales diamond store. He exhaled. He had to do this right. He stepped out of the truck and walked to the front door.
Jed opened the box and took a knee, as he choked out the words: “Will you…Darla?”
Darla’s eyes widened as her jaw dropped. She took the box out of his hand and examined it. Zales was printed on the inside and outside of the box. Plain as day. He remembered she’d said it was the only place to buy a classy diamond. Then she held up the ring to the sun, inspecting the diamond for clarity, he supposed. She twitched her eyebrows. Something she did when calculating math problems. “Darla?” Jed asked, still on one knee. She looked down at him, surprised, as if he stepped into the women’s restroom to say hello.
“Sorry, Jed. What was that?”
“Will ya marry me? I ain’t got much now, and the job don’t pay–”
Darla cut him off by holding up her hand and giving him a soft smile that hinted sadness from the corners of her mouth. “Jed, it’s not that I don’t want to, but…”
“Is it Ryan?” Jed asked, rising with his fists clinched. That fucker had always had his eye on her.
“Heavens, no. It’s just the ring…”
“What about it? It’s Zales. Cost over a thousand dollars, sugar.” Jed felt his heart constricting, his world going just a little woozy. This couldn’t happen; not with what he’d been through to get that dammed thing. Darla evaluated the ring again. Jed wondered if he should have stuck the receipt in the box. He held his breath as she seemed to appreciate it more. If she’d just say yes and put it on her florescent pink nail-polished finger. He willed her to do it. Finally she closed her eyes with forced determination and handed the box back to Jed.
“I just… I’ve always wanted a princess cut diamond… and I want it to be a carat… at least. It would be nice if the ring were covered in diamonds too. They call it a halo.”
Jed felt like he might puke. Of course, he should have seen this coming. Nothing was easy with her. At least he hadn’t killed anybody to get the money.
“Sorry, Jed, but I know I’m worth it.” Darla stepped forward and kissed him on the forehead.
As she walked away, her peroxide ponytail swaying in synch with her Daisy Duke clad ass, Jed bit his lower lip. He wasn’t going to cry. Hell no.
Jed went to Zales the next day and found a ring Darla would love. He asked her to come with him, but she’d said “surprise me.” The problem was that it cost three thousand. Even with the trade-in he was short two grand. He knew he couldn’t risk it again. Robbing a gas station and a bank in the same day made the new–a punk wearing a hoodie and sunglasses, and carrying a pistol. That was all the cops had, but anybody within a hundred mile radius who owned a cash register would be ready, fingers twitching on a trigger whenever anyone who looked peculiar walked into their establishment. Besides, both robberies had disappointing returns, and he even had to throw in some of his own money to buy that ring. He needed a different plan, and then it struck him. He knew a place where he could find the highest quality rings cheap and out in the open. He jumped into his Ranger and drove two hours to downtown St. Louis on a mission.
Sitting in the infield seats, he couldn’t believe how close he was to home plate. He’d only seen the game from the bleachers and upper balconies, but using cash from the ring refund afforded him the view he dreamed of. He could have experienced all the nuances of the game, like the pitcher’s grimace when he hurls a fastball, the popping sound when the ball slamming into the catcher’s thick leather mitt, the fine mist of brown dust kicked up from the cleats of the batter inside the box, the grunt of the next batter in the on-deck circle warming up and swinging his bat with weights on it. He could have noticed all of this and more, but he wasn’t watching his beloved Cardinals competing against the visiting Pirates. He kept his eyes on the trophy wives of Northeast Missouri’s elite.
Most of the women were blond, wearing a gallon of make-up and something red. Jed scanned the crowds, looking at manicured left hands and then whether there were children with them or not. He finally picked his favorite.
A MILF probably in her mid-forties with a huge rock, a one point five or maybe even a two-carat princess cut, with smaller diamonds surrounding it. Her husband looked like a banker with neatly trimmed gray hair, wearing a polo shirt, pleat shorts and a pair of glasses that cost more than his truck. Jed knew he could take the paper pusher down easily.
He tried to enjoy the rest of the game, but couldn’t. He kept looking over his shoulder, making sure the rich couple didn’t head out early. That would be just his luck. He might actually enjoy the game from this amazing vantage point only to lose Darla’s perfect engagement ring. He also had to turn off his cell phone since Darla kept texting nonstop throughout the game. She wanted to know if he’d gotten her ring yet. He’d replied “soon” and “latter 2day”, but it wasn’t good enough. She wanted details and it was starting to piss him off. Jed didn’t want to be in that kind of mood, not when he was on a mission of love or something like that. So he finally hit the off button and focused on the couple, who, as far as he could tell, didn’t seem to care for each other too much.
When the game was over, a one to zip Cardinal loss on a wild pitch, he followed them past the general parking lot and into a nearby parking garage. Jed really couldn’t understand their unhappiness when they walked up to a brand spanking new Lexus–what in the world could they be grumpy about? They had everything money could buy. He felt a surge of anger. Ungrateful rich bastards. Pulling up his hoodie, Jed picked up speed covering the distance between them. As soon as the man reached for the car door, Jed body slammed the man against the car. He heard the wind go out of the older man. On the other side of the Lexus, the woman gasped in horror.
“Gimme all of your jewelry, or I’ll shoot your husband,” Jed said through clenched teeth, trying give his most threatening voice. He shoved a souvenir bat against the trembling man’s back like a gun. He was so close nobody could tell what he was holding. The woman just stood there looking stupid.
“Do it, Charlene!” the man said to his wife. She hesitated for another long moment, furrowing her brow. Families walked nearby, but they were in their own bubble, oblivious to the robbery in progress only a few yards away. Jed wished he could have brought his .38 so he could shoot the dumb bitch. She was taking too “effing” long, but he hadn’t been sure if security would let him into the game carrying a concealed weapon.
“I’ll do it, lady. I’ll kill ‘im. I mean it.”
Charlene exhaled and rolled her eyes, placing the engagement ring as well as a few other rings and a ladies’ Rolex on the roof of the car. For a flash of a second it seemed to Jed that she looked a lot like an older version of Darla if she had money. It felt like a déjà vu glimpse into the future. Jed shook the thought from his mind. He needed to get rolling. When he reached up for the jewelry, the scrawny man elbowed him in the gut. Jed brought the mini bat down on his head. He swiped his hand across the roof as Charlene shot pepper spray across the roof into his face.
Jed ran. He had a handful of something’s, but he couldn’t see anything. He ricocheted off of cars and bumped into people, his lungs on fire. He heard the woman shouting behind him and several voices. A few steps later, he tumbled down a flight of concrete stairs, head over kneecap, crashing deeper into the parking garage. With stinging, blurry sight and every body part screaming pain, Jed searched for an escape until he found a dumpster. Opening the lid, he heaved his banged-up body inside, burying himself deep under dozens of plastic bags full of garbage. One broke, spilling rotten food all over him. He gagged, wanting to leap out screaming, run to the nearest shower and scrub away the nasty filth, but he kept quiet and telling himself to exercise a little bit of self-control. A problem he’d had his entire childhood. He could do it. He’d have to wait it out, because this was bigger than him. This was about Darla: about making her his wife and he, her man.
Police walked by with their radios squawking. They even lifted the lid on the dumpster and shone a light around inside, but they didn’t dig. Jed couldn’t blame them either. It reeked to high heaven. Jed tried to picture himself in the future with his arm around Darla, a big house with kids and a dog running around. He tried hard, willing it happen in his mind, but he couldn’t. All he could envision was living in the stench of now and the time immediately following that–the nearly now. That moment when he knelt on his knee and slipped the damned ring on Darla’s finger, waiting for her answer. After that he had nothing. He didn’t know if she’d say yes. If she didn’t he had no idea what he’d do. Probably run head first into a brick wall and hope his head was softer.
Please, God, he prayed. I know I’m a sinner and not worth your time. But please make Darla say yes. If she does, I’d be mighty grateful. Might even be willin’ to take some punishment for a couple of crimes.
Later, after he was certain the police had left, Jed pushed himself up from the bags and slimy funk. He threw open the lid and inhaled the fresher air of the damp basement garage. It was empty. Stumbling to the parking lot with a twisted ankle, he found his truck sitting alone under a street lamp. He took off his stinking hoodie and put the ring in his hand. It sparkled something gorgeous under the light. A smile rose from his mouth, but then, looking closer he noticed his stained hand. It looked like blood. Jed shoved the ring into Wranglers and started wiping his hand furiously on his jeans. No it couldn’t be, he told himself. It had to be ketchup or some other gunk. Had to be.
He drove home blasting the radio loud. Country or rock, it didn’t matter. He just wanted voices singing and guitars wailing. If an advertisement came on hawking cars or Pepsi or freaking engagement rings, he felt the urge to smash the radio. It was these people, these assholes who made the world so fucking difficult. He wanted to go back to a time when things were simple. When you were happy being poor and a ring made out of tin was as good as one made of gold. It was the thought, the essence of love that mattered the most. Not halos, carats, or any of that crap. Just fucking love.
Jed was surprised to find Darla waiting outside his duplex. It was after one in the morning.
“I’ve been texting an’ callin’ you for past five hours. Where the hell you’ve been all night?” She planted her hands on her hips and screwed up her beautiful face so tight in became ugly.
Jed stood by his truck speechless. He wasn’t ready for this. He wanted to shower, put on fresh clothes and drink a beer–several of them.
“So?” Darla said, sauntering up to him. A smile started emerging from that rigid scowl. “Did you get me something special today?”
Jed felt in his pockets for it. Panic shot through his body. Maybe that idiot ring fell out in the parking lot when he was trying to wipe his hands off. Darla stopped a foot away from him and crinkled her nose. “You smell somethin’ awful, baby.”
Jed felt relief when he found it in the fifth pocket. He pulled out the ring, holding it between his thumb and forefinger. Darla’s eyes lit up. Sparkling light danced off the diamonds from the streetlamp overhead. He was about to get on one knee and ask her all over again, when she snatched it from him like a starving dog grabs a bone. She slipped it over her knuckle, admired it on her hand for a couple of seconds and then squealed. “It fits! It’s perfect. Yes, I’ll marry you, Jedediah Crowe.” She held out her arms like she wanted to hug or smooch, but then backed off. “Sorry, Jed. I would, but you just stink too much.”
Jed beamed as relief flooded over him. The journey was over. Like some fairy tale where the dude had to procure some magical object to win the affection of a princess, he had won Darla. She would become his wife and they would do that happily ever after thing. However it goes. That thought was wiped away a moment later when two sheriff cruisers screeched to a stop behind his truck. A searchlight blinded him.
Jed froze, unable to move. Which one was it? The gas station, the bank or Busch Stadium?
“Honey, what’s the law doin’ here?” Darla asked.
Two deputies jumped out of their cars with their guns pointed at him. No use in running now, Jed thought. He smiled, raising his hands in the air. It didn’t matter anymore. He’d got what he wanted. Darla had said yes.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.